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Donations spur ‘Guardians of the Trails’ at HVNP

Thanks to new donations, young adults can continue to be “Guardians of the Trails” in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Jade Hathaway, 19, and Liam Fien, 18, spent a recent afternoon building a new picnic table at the Kulanaokuaiki Campground in HVNP.

Their goal was to replace wooden picnic tables that have become unstable and or damaged by weather.

Under the instruction of John Stallman, Hathaway and Fien made several trips from the parking lot to the campsite while carrying the parts and tools needed to make the table.

Once they had all the parts they needed, Stallman, Hathaway and Fien worked together to build the table.

Stallman is a former park ranger and currently works for the Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a guide, botanist and now a mentor to the youth participating in the program this year.

“This is a diverse program where youth can experience all types of jobs that someone could have in a national park,” Stallman said. “Everything we do has multiple lessons attached to it and can help them learn skills needed for jobs and everyday life.”

While building the picnic table, Stallman reminded Hathaway and Fien to be wary of safety hazards, especially since the hospitals are over capacity in Hawaii County because of the pandemic.

“I want to teach them to understand the environment of the park while also being aware of safety hazards during labor-intensive work,” Stallman said. “They are working on things that visitors will encounter, so it’s important to keep a watchful eye over the land and themselves.”

The Guardians of the Trails Youth Program began as an idea in 2019 from Friends of HVNP CEO Elizabeth Fien, who is also Liam Fien’s mother.

The program was created for youth who have graduated high school and don’t necessarily know what to do next.

After receiving $150,000 in grant money from the National Park Foundation in 2020, Elizabeth Fien employed six people and purchased equipment and an 11-person passenger van.

Since COVID-19 limited the work that could be done, the six youths spent four months removing thousands of invasive trees throughout the park.

This year, the National Park Foundation awarded $35,000 to the program, and Helen Wright provided an individual donation of $25,000. The funds helped with the purchase of more equipment and will provide another four months of salary for Hathaway and Liam Fien.

With fewer people in the program this year, Hathaway and Liam Fien have created a bubble with Stallman and are able to work on more projects that will help with the safety and maintenance of the trails and camping areas in HVNP.

Hathaway found out about the program while attending Keaau High School and applied after graduating. After participating last year, she was excited to join the program again.

“We all had the option to come back this year, and I’m so glad I did,” Hathaway said. “It’s always refreshing to work outside and to see things I may have never seen before.”

With Stallman as their mentor, Hathaway and Liam Fien will be collecting seeds for HVNP’s nursery, building more picnic tables and rehabilitating the Kulanaokuaiki Campground, working in the Kahuku unit of the park, fixing trail signage and taking down visitor-made ahu.

While the Guardians of the Trails is similar to the park’s Junior Ranger program, there is more focus on stewardship of the park and not interpretation, which is the process of providing visitors an opportunity to connect with the park.

“I’m not always a fan of interpretation, and I prefer to work in a mellow atmosphere with a small group,” Liam Fien said. “I’m more of a visual person, so doing this work is very rewarding. Every time we finish a project, it feels like we’ve really earned our money.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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